Created: July 28, 2021 05:41 PM
July 28, 2021
Commissioner Basil Seggos,
NYS Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos
625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12207
cc: Governor Andrew Cuomo
Attorney General Letitia James
RE: Norlite Title V and Part 373 Pollution Permits Renewal
Dear Commissioner Seggos:
The 122 undersigned organizations urge your agency to deny the renewal of Norlite (Cohoes, NY) Aggregate Air Title V and Part 373 hazardous waste permit applications. It is time to end this public nuisance which is such a threat to the health and well-being of capital district residents. Norlite’s practices make it not susceptible to effective regulation.
This is one of the most serious environmental justice problems in the state. The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has designated this part of the city of Cohoes as an environmental justice area. Norlite is just hundreds of feet from Saratoga Sites, a public housing apartment complex that is home to 70 families. It is directly across the Hudson River from Troy, where 50,000 people reside and likely breathe in Norlite emissions.
Norlite, LLC, was founded in Cohoes in 1956. It manufactures ceramic lightweight aggregates for road filler and construction from shale. Norlite mines the shale from an on-site quarry and processes in two high-temperature kiln. Norlite fuels the kilns using toxic waste and fracked gas-- there are only two kilns in the country used to make aggregate in this way. This process also produces silicate, similar to that produced by volcanoes. Norlite is now owned by Tradebe USA, a multi-national company based in Spain.
The neighborhood around Norlite has changed over the last 65 years. In addition, several decades after the facility opened, the company significantly changed its operation when it began burning hazardous waste.
Norlite is the only commercial hazardous waste incinerator in the state of New York. It accepts some of the most toxic materials from throughout the country for disposal. A large portion of Norlite’s revenue comes from incinerating this waste.
Norlite has continued to operate for decades in a residential community despite repeated health and air complaints. Residents in the nearby public housing project to the east of the Norlite plant have long complained about odor, dust and air-pollution-related illnesses. Other neighbors complain about the damages done to their home foundations from the regular blasting in the quarry at the facility.
Despite decades of monitoring and modest fines by state and federal regulatory agencies (NYS DEC, EPA) and pollution equipment upgrades, the plant continues to pose significant pollution and public health problems. State and federal environmental oversight have been inadequate to protect community residents. In 2020, the EPA settled with Norlite for years’ worth of permit and Clean Air Act violations, affecting multiple aspects of their operations and resulting in unknown quantities of emissions of dioxins, furans, semi-volatile metals, low-volatility metals, hydrogen chloride and chlorine gas, particulate matter, mercury, chromium, arsenic, and beryllium. These are serious violations in addition to Norlite’s burning 2.4 million pounds of PFAS-laden firefighting foam in secret for 2 years.
The State Legislature, Albany County Legislature and the City Council in Cohoes all had to pass legislation in 2020 to take action to stop the import and burning of the toxic fire-fighting foam (AFFF) at Norlite as DEC ignored several years of burning of the material that appears to be in violation of existing permits and certainly was done without public notice by Norlite or DEC to impacted residents or local officials. This is the just the latest of many examples of the inability and unwillingness for Norlite to comply with the law and permit restrictions, and of state and federal officials’ inability to enforce the law and permits that Norlite is supposed to operate under.
For these and the reasons listed below, it is time for the state to at least end the ability of the facility to burn hazardous waste if not outright deny the renewal altogether.
· 30 years of enforcement actions and settlements resulting in $727,000 in penalties and $99,000 in “environmental benefit projects” have failed to bring Norlite into compliance.
· 30 years of complaints and enforcement actions have failed to bring about effective control of the fugitive dust from Norlite’s facility and prevent it from escaping into the surrounding neighborhood. Independent tests reveal that the dust contains microscopic glass shards, and Norlite’s own Material Safety Data Sheets show that exposure to the dust can cause silicosis, a progressive, irreversible, and deadly lung disease. This poses a clear and present threat to residents near the facility, including children. DEC’s recent installation of fence line monitoring equipment is laudable, but that praise is tempered by the fact that Norlite’s aggregate piles have recently grown larger than ever. Citizen samples prove that the dust is escaping from the facility; fence line monitoring merely delays meaningful action while residents continue to be exposed.
· In February of 2021, the DEC issued notices of violation to Norlite regarding fugitive dust from Norlite’s pollution control system blowing into surrounding communities but did not stop the practice. For decades, Norlite has misused the Bevill Amendment exemption to collect dust from its pollution control system and mix it in with aggregate and sell it as “block mix.” To meet this exemption, Norlite is supposed to be able to show that it meets certain restrictions on a daily basis. Instead, they test on a monthly or yearly basis--at a time of their own choosing -- in effect creating a large loophole. The dust and other materials from the pollution control system contain heavy metals such as lead, arsenic, and mercury, and may also contain dioxins, furans and other hazardous materials. As with the aggregate, Norlite piles, mixes, and stores this material in the open air, and the dust migrates into the surrounding communities. It is an immediate threat to life.
· Norlite’s decision to burn 2.4 million pounds of PFAS-containing AFFF and 5 million gallons of water contaminated with AFFF subjected the residents around Norlite to a hazardous experiment without their knowledge. Further, there is still no proof that AFFF can be incinerated with 99.99% destruction as is required by federal EPA regulation. It is more than likely that the AFFF was not adequately destroyed before being spewed out into the surrounding community. While DEC conducted soil and water testing to determine PFAS contamination, that study has not been independently verified, nor does it acknowledge the potential for PFAS-containing emissions to have been inhaled or have escaped beyond the boundaries of the study.
· Norlite is the largest single-source of mercury pollution in the state, with state permission to emit more than 50 pounds of mercury into the air that families and children breathe. In addition, people from the surrounding community regularly fish in a pond immediately adjacent to Norlite’s “finishing area.” They may be eating this fish, unaware of the mercury and other toxins that the fish have ingested. Only 1/70th of a teaspoon of mercury is needed to contaminate a 25-acre lake to the point where fish are unsafe to eat.
· Norlite had two uncontrolled burns of hazardous waste in less than one year, which caused unknown emissions and toxins to pollute the air that Norlite’s neighbors breathe.
Given this history and testimonials given by residents, the presence of Norlite has been detrimental to the health, mental wellbeing, and quality of life for its neighbors, including children. It just doesn’t make sense for a hazardous waste incinerator to exist in a bustling metropolitan area where more than 50,000 people live.
This environmental injustice cannot be allowed to continue. Deny Norlite’s Title V and part 373 permits, which expired on December 31, 2020.
Saratoga Sites Against Norlite Emissions
Lights Out Norlite
League of Women Voters of New York State
NYS Council of Churches
Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter
NAACP Troy Branch #2182
New York Public Interest Research Group
Hudson River Sloop Clearwater
Rensselaer County Legislature - Minority
Food & Water Watch
Environmental Justice Initiative
Citizen Action of New York
Green Party of New York
Long Island Progressive Coalition
Alaturco Mediterranean Grill
All Our Energy
Alliance for a Green Economy
Arts Center of the Capital Region
Bard & Baker Board Game Cafe
Bethlehem Morning Voice Huddle
Beyond Plastic Alumni group
Bronx Climate Justice North
Brookhaven Landfill Action and Remediation Group
Broome Tioga Green Party
Capital Region Interfaith Creation Care Coalition (CRICCC)
Chris' Coffee Service
Church Women United in New York State
Clean Air Action Network of Glens Falls
Clean Air Coalition of Greater Ravena Coeymans
Clean and Healthy New York
CUNY Divest From Fossil Fuels
Dance for the Planet
Dryden Resource Awareness Coalition
Earthkeeper Health Resources
Erie County Green Party
Extinction Rebellion: Capital Region
Fluoride Action Network
Judith Enck, Former EPA Regional Administrator
Fossil Free Tompkins
Friends of the Mahicantuck
Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives
Grassroots Environmental Education
Green Education and Legal Fund
Green Party of Brooklyn
Green Party of Nassau County
Green Party of New York
Green Party of Onondaga County
Hudson Mohawk Industrial Gateway
Hudson Valley Green Party
Justice Center of Rensselaer County
Keep It Greene
League of Women Voters Albany County
Lovin' Mama Farm
Media Alliance, Inc.
Menard Properties LLC
Metro New York Catholic Climate Movement
More Trees Arborist Collective
Mountain Top Progressives
Muddy Trail Jerky Co.
Nassau Hiking & Outdoor Club
North County Earth Action
New York Youth Climate Leaders
New Yorkers for Clean Power
Nine Mile Farm
North American Climate, Conservation and Environment(NACCE)
North Bronx Racial Justice
Oakwood Community Center
Paint Cohoes: Gallery & Studio
PAUSE - People of Albany United for Safe Energy
PJIC Office, Sisters of Charity of New York
Rising Earth Natural Building LLC
Sacred River Healing
Saratoga Warren Washington Progressive Action
Save the Pine Bush
Seneca Lake Guardian
Shut Down Indian Point NOW!
Sisters of Charity Federation
Slack Hollow Farm
Solidarity Committee -- Capital District
Sonny Daye Incorporated
Soul Fire Farm Institute, Inc.
South Shore Audubon Society
Stop the Algonquin Pipeline Expansion
The Climate Reality Project: Capital Region, NY Chapter
The Community Rising Project
The Tiny Diney
Thomas Berry Forum for Ecological Dialogue at Iona College
Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative
Tribal Link Foundation
Trinity Alliance of the Capital Region
Troy 4 Black Lives
Troy Bike Rescue
Troy Central Little League
Troy Sanctuary Campaign
United Neighbors Concerned About GE Dewey Loeffel Dump (UNCAGED)
Upper Hudson Green Party
UU Congregation of Binghamton, Green Sanctuary
UUCB Green Sanctuary
Vita Rara Inc
West Branch Conservation Association
Women Against War
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